Can the Humor-Challenged Be Saved?

I’ve been thinking about humor again.

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The Humor-Capable.

I’m almost always thinking about humor as I’m winding through the first draft of a novel I’m working on, keeping myself awake at night wondering if this scene is funny or is that chapter funny? I got to thinking even more about humor when I read the post, “It’s a Joke, Son” over on the blog FiftyFourandAHalf. In that post, the blogger (Elyse) identifies a whole new class of people out there, the Humor-Challenged. I would call these folks the Hopeless-Stupids, but let’s go with Elyse’s nomenclature, since it’s less likely to get a gang of Hopeless-Stupids over here leaving comments like, “No, you’re stupid.”

Anyway, the Hopeless-Stupids Humor-Challenged are the folks who don’t get the joke, never get the joke, and wander around the internet trying to ruin the joke for everyone else.

Now most of you know my good bloggin’ buddy, Peg-O-Leg.  Well, Peg was Freshly Pressed just yesterday!  It was a delayed FP’ing for a post she wrote over a month ago, entitled: Facebook Ruined My Life, Now They Must Pay.  It’s about how she wants to sue Facebook because somebody put up an embarrassing picture of her from her childhood.

It was a joke, son.

But the thing is, she got comments from strangers criticizing her for suing Facebook.  I’m not joking, she got nasty comments about the lawsuit she was clearly making up for a humor blog.

Then I read another post, “Jokes, Gobbledygook, and Cardboard Cut Outs” on This Page Intentionally Left Blank. The blogger (Liam) touched on a number of topics in the post, but the part that interested me was his perspective on writing humor.

Brandon Sanderson believes humor can be cultivated into the tool I mentioned, every time you need it.  Many others believe humor is spontaneous, a gift for those lucky enough to have an edge.  More and more, I’m finding Sanderson’s opinion correct.  He’s not a funny fellow, all by himself and spontaneous.  But when you give him the time, he writes killingly funny quips.  He’s admitted to purposefully raising his humor level in books, especially Warbreaker.  While he isn’t quick on his feet as, say, Howard Tayler, he knows the system of humor and uses it as a tool.

Moral of the story: humor is a tool, not something you’re born with.  Practice it, perfect it, and use it.

And then I remembered a comment that had been left on an excerpt of fiction I had posted for a Blogging University Writing 201 workshop.

And to answer your questions Is it funny? Not yet. Try and spark up a conversation with some witty comments, a conflict that will make them laugh out loud or bring back old memories.

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See? This is what funny is.

The upshot of all of this is I think that there is a segment of the population that believes “humor” is one liners, what I would have called “Yo’ Mama” type jokes before Joan Rivers died last week and I began reading about her career so now I will call them “Joan Rivers” type jokes. In short, it’s insult humor. These same folks are not going to recognize humor that arises out of absurd situations such as suing Facebook over a childhood photo or, let’s say, eating Irish babies as a solution to famine. To them, satire is not what funny is.

Perhaps Liam on This Page Intentionally Left Blank is right in his belief that people can be taught to add humor to their writing. I think I’d only agree that people can be taught to add “zingers” to their writing. And I’m all for adding “zingers.” Here at Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please  I traffic in lots and lots of self deprecating humor: that is, I insult myself for laughs, so bring on the zingers!

But I don’t know if the Humor-Challenged can be taught to appreciate, let alone write, satire. Satire is not something that they are going to find funny, ever. All humor is very subjective, anyway, which is why Arrested Development got cancelled in 2006 and why Two and a Half Men is still on the air. 

And because the robo-bots at WordPress will link to all the wrong posts at the end of this post, let me add the post that should  be linked to, “Is This Even Funny?”

Royalty free images, including the one in this post, can be found at freeimages.com. The page from the Amazing Spiderman comic book is believed to comply with fair or acceptable use principles established in U.S. and international copyright law.  

 

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22 thoughts on “Can the Humor-Challenged Be Saved?

  1. barbtaub says:

    …erm… Wow. I have to say that I never really thought about what makes something funny. Maybe that’s because my first journalistic efforts went forth into the middle of the middle—Central Illinois—the poster child locale for the humor impaired. If I admit right off that I think your blog is hilarious, could you write me an excuse to present to the humor police explaining why I just can’t be expected to figure out whether what I do is funny or not? Please?

    Like

    • Karen says:

      Eh, I overanalyze everything, so not surprised I’m the only one who thinks about this . . .

      Do you think people can be taught to “write funny”? I just wrote 800+ words in this post, and really that’s all I wanted to ask–can people learn “funny”?

      Like

      • barbtaub says:

        I sure hope it’s something that can be taught, because Child #2 makes a living teaching comedy sketch writing in NY. The bigger question, I think, is can people be taught to “get” funny. That one I have my doubts about…

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        • Elyse says:

          In my humor writing course, there was a man who knew he wasn’t funny, but he was there to learn to lighten up his writing. And while he was not funny at the end, he did improve significantly. Maybe that’s part of it; unless you get that you’re humor challenged, you’re not going to get over it.

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  2. balletandboxing says:

    I enjoyed this post a lot, as it is a topic I have been stewing over lately: the different types of humour. I trade heavily on “situational humour” or absurd/ridiculous situations. But I have always been envious of some people’s ability to throw out witty one-liners. Not necessarily Joan River’s spiteful one-liners, but actual funny one-liners.
    I agree with you, certain forms of humour are more accessible than others, and possibly the more accessible the humour, the more easily learned?

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    • Karen says:

      Yes, you put that very well, some humor is more accessible than others. Still, I don’t know if I buy into the belief that it can be learned, like proper punctuation. There’s intelligence and creativity involved and I don’t know if that can be learned.

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  3. Elyse says:

    I’ve always been thought of as a funny person — I can get a room roaring when I’m on a roll. I’m pretty good with one line zingers, too. My family is made up of very funny folks, and we all learned how to do it to survive.

    But writing humor and telling a funny story or zinging someone is seriously different.

    Just before I started blogging, I took an online humor writing course. Our first assignment was to write up a story we thought was funny. I chose one I’d been telling for decades about a law professor I once knew who — literally — did not know how to change a lightbulb. The story had always been met with tears of laughter, because, well, lighbulb joke + serious law professor = funny. Right? But when I wrote it, it wasn’t funny at all. I wrote it just the way I told it and it was boring. Which, naturally, pissed me off.

    So I had to re-work a story I’d been telling for about 30 years. It was hard work because the venue is so very different. Eventually, I succeeded. But you know what? I’ve tried TELLING the story since then, and it bombed.

    It was an interesting lesson!

    Thanks for this post — it is an important topic, and, a surprisingly serious one. Because we all need to include humor in our writing, even in our most serious writing. (The best bit of humor writing I’ve ever done is the one where I talk about my family’s tendency to die on holidays http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2011/12/02/both-sides-now/ ). Laughing and cryin’ you know it’s the same release (thanks, Joni Mitchell!)

    And thanks for linking to my post!

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    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome. I read the post (both the reaction to Peg-O-Leg’s Freshly Pressed selection and your follow up from your own experiences with the Hopelessly Stupid) and it hit several of my “hot button” issues: why are people really mean (or really generous) to strangers on the internet, and what is it about humor that some people just don’t get? And then when I read the post at This Page Intentionally Left Blank, I had to ask, can those people who thought Peg-O-Leg’s post was serious learn that it’s actually funny?

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  4. Belladonna Took says:

    I don’t even know whether I’m funny! People say I am, and when they’ve had enough wine with dinner I can usually get ’em chuckling … but I’ve written a couple posts that made me laugh out loud, and not once has anyone posted a reply to the effect that I made them blow coffee (or Coke, or even plain water) out their nose. So I’m probably no judge. The problem with trying to teach someone to be funny is you would have to define what is and isn’t funny, and that’s such a personal AND situation-dependent thing, I don’t know that it’s really possible.

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    • Karen says:

      It may not be possible, but lots of folks have tried it! I’ve even linked in my Good Reads widget there to the book, Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why and, of course, I also offered some explanations in that post I wrote last year, “Is this Even Funny?”

      But I’m with you–I still laugh at posts I published long ago, and read a hundred times since. We’re our own best audience!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Karen says:

      “Funny-added” sounds like a phrase you’d see plastered on a box of cereal (or a tag line for a revamped blog): “New and improved and now with more funny added!”

      And, hoo-boy, remind me to never show you a rough draft of my writing. I often leave notes to myself in the margins, e.g. “Add something funny here!” or “This needs to be more funny!” I kid you not. I really do this.

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  5. janeybgood says:

    “All humor is very subjective, anyway, which is why Arrested Development got cancelled in 2006 and why Two and a Half Men is still on the air.”

    Couldn’t agree more…actually, I tend to get rather frustrated when people like something so blatantly unfunny. I wish I could be more tolerant of other people’s taste in humour but I just find it terribly confusing how some can like such awful shows.

    Great post!

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  6. moi says:

    I read that post about the facebook thing, I took it for humour, it was obviously humour. haha to the people that really took that seriously. Besides everyone should sue facebook anyway just because they can.

    That said I think that sometimes humour is difficult to get across sometimes especially if you don’t know the other person. Hell sometimes I have to explain things to people I DO know over a text that was sent.

    Like

    • Karen says:

      I think some folks just wander the internet looking for reasons to be outraged and then spew their anger in the comments section of a blog.

      But you’re right–tone is often misunderstood in text.

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